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School board hikes pay without public discussion

June 17, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

With no public discussion or advance notice, the Washington County Board of Education gave its administrators a 4 percent salary increase Tuesday night.

The raise, which will cost $471,600, was not on the meeting's agenda and was not mentioned at any public meeting or hearing on the budget this spring.

School Board members previously had talked about hiking administrators' salaries only behind closed doors, according to School Board President Edwin Hayes.

A motion added the item to the agenda Tuesday night. None of the School Board members commented before the unanimous vote to approve the increase.

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Under Maryland law, public bodies may meet privately to discuss certain personnel issues, but pay hikes are not specifically mentioned in the Open Meetings Act.

"Negotiations can be part of executive session," said Hayes.

But "Unit Two" personnel such as principals and supervisors do not belong to a union. They bargain with the schools superintendent on a "meet and confer" basis that is not a formal negotiation, according to Human Resources Director Phil Ray.

Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said Wednesday that discussion of pay raises should be held in open session.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said Wednesday he usually recommends the Washington County Commissioners hold all discussions about pay hikes in public.

That is what the commissioners did earlier this year when discussing a suggestion by Human Resources Director Alan J. Davis that all county employees receive an 8 percent pay hike. The employees instead received 5 percent raises.

The School Board's lawyer, Richard F. McGrory, said the School Board did not consult him about discussing pay increases in private. He refused to comment further.

School Board Vice President Paul Bailey said the board traditionally has handled administrative raises in private. "As far as I can recollect, it's never been handled any other way," he said. Bailey said he has been involved in the school system for 37 years.

The raise takes effect when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

It is included in a $4.5 million line item for salary increases and benefits. But the administrators' raise was previously not identified or mentioned separately in budget hearings.

"I don't think we specifically asked that question, nor was the information volunteered," said County Commissioner John L. Schnebly.

"I am sure the commissioners knew there was money included in salaries for administrators," said Bailey.

"I didn't know anything about the raises," said County Commissioner William J. Wivell. He said he doesn't oppose making pay scales competitive but said administrators were already well-compensated.

Schnebly said a raise for administrators is reasonable.

Commissioner Bertrand L. Iseminger Jr. said he assumed administrators would get pay increases.

The raise is part of an agreement with administrators and supervisors made last year, according to Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

It comes on top of a 1 percent raise the School Board gave administrators in February at a cost of $73,807. As a result, the salaries of all administrators increased by 5 percent in six months.

For example, an elementary school assistant principal at the lowest end of the pay scale started the year with a $51,304 salary. That assistant principal is now making $53,890. An executive director's salary went from $67,222 to $70,610.

Bartlett could not be reached Wednesday. He has said the raise is necessary to remain competitive with other school jurisdictions in the region.

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